DURHAM — Operation Breakthrough, a Durham agency dating from the 1960s’ War On Poverty era, has lost one of its signature components.
Federal authorities have switched funding for the Head Start preschool-education program from Breakthrough to the Chapel Hill Training-Outreach Project.
Both agencies applied in a process required every five years to continue or begin receiving money as the local Head Start “grantee.” The Atlanta regional office of Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, made the switch.
August brings the 50th anniversary of Operation Breakthrough’s founding. It had managed Head Start since the federal program began in Durham in 1965.
“Certainly we’re disappointed,” said James Tabron, Operation Breakthrough’s executive director. “That would be an understatement, but it is as it is.”
Head Start accounted for about 75 percent of Operation Breakthrough’s revenue, he said. “It’s a pretty big hit.”
The agency’s most recent Internal Revenue return, filed in August 2013 and covering October 2011 through September 2012, shows $5.6 million in revenue, almost all from government grants.
The regional office did not respond to The Durham News’ requests for an interview. Tabron said he had had no indication the decision was affected by regulation and policy violations a state review uncovered last year in Operation Breakthrough overall.
Those violations occurred in fiscal 2010-11 and 2011-12, before Tabron and some of his staff came to work at Operation Breakthrough. Since then, the agency has corrected some of the issues that put its state funding in jeopardy.
When Tabron and Breakthrough Chairman Michael Page talked to Atlanta in June, “That did not appear to have any bearing” on the Head Start decision, Tabron said. Page said he had the same impression.
“I have no reason to believe that it did,” Page said. “That doesn’t mean it did not happen.”
Federal reviewers found failures of reporting, record-keeping and other management areas in Operation Breakthrough’s Head Start program during fiscal 2011, but after corrections and a followup review they closed the findings, without requiring further action, in January 2013 according to the followup report ( 1.usa.gov/U4OmVL).
With the loss of Head Start, Page and Tabron said Operation Breakthrough will carry on with its other programs, home weatherization, family financial counseling and emergency assistance.
“We’re (continuing) to identify other services we might be able to implement,” Tabron said.
Still, Head Start was “an integral part of our service fabric for a long time,” Tabron said, and its loss will mean internal changes, including staff cuts.
Tabron said he has made no decisions on cuts yet, but has to by the end of this month.
According to its website history ( 1.usa.gov/TUYyj1) Head Start was created to provide preschool children of low-income families with “a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs.”
Operation Breakthrough’s five Head Start locations served more than 450 3- and 4-year-old children for more than six hours a day Monday through Friday, according to a 2012 “services snapshot” ( 1.usa.gov/U4OmVL).
City Councilman Eddie Davis said he was “a bit disappointed” by Breakthrough’s loss of Head Start after so many years. And, Breakthrough and Head Start, established near the peak of the civil-rights movement, have a symbolic value for Durham, he said.
“In particular, the Head Start program seemed to be a very strong signal our community, our government ... were going to make sure we provided a head start for many kids,” he said.
“The pride that I had in the leadership that came from Durham to provide this is ... for the community,” said Davis. “But the quality of service we want to continue for the children of Durham ... is the most important thing.”